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One hot Orchid
'Food Network Star' and Hilton Head restaurateur featured at Asian Fest

In addition to the usual lineup of music, dance, and cuisine, the Savannah Asian Festival features a very special guest this year.

Orchid Paulmeier, owner and chef at Hilton Head's One Hot Mama's, is better known to many as a star of "Food Network Star."

This year she'll be prowling the floor of the Civic Center on behalf of the network.

"I'll be the foodie at large," she laughs. "I'll be primarily talking to the food vendors. I'm really the throw girl for the food part. The host and I will be talking about the different booths and the different flavors."

"We want to point out the subtle differences in the ingredients in each culture. We want to try to get people to come to that booth or, if they can't come to the festival, to try restaurants in the area."

For those unaware of Paulmeier's Food Network presence, a quick primer: She made the 2011 edition of "Food Network Star" her third time trying out. "Out of 4000 candidates, I was in the top 15. And then in the top 6 out of ten," she says.

Besides her thriving restaurant, One Hot Mama's, also keeps busy working various food festivals and women's shows. "It's all a process," she says cheerily.

Of Filipino heritage, Paulmeier of course grew up around Filipino cuisine, and also lots of Korean food, she says.

"One of most the popular things in Filipino food is the lumpia - it's sort of our version of an egg roll," Paulmeier says.

"There's lots of Spanish influence in Filipino food too - lumpia is sort of like a taquito. Sofrito is the base of Filipino cuisine."

While One Hot Mama's opened a decade ago as basically a Southern restaurant, the menu has branched out with the interests of the chef.

We started the restaurant ten years ago as a Southern barbecue place for sure. There's a little Texas in there with the brisket," she explains.

"But over the past two years, as Asian food has gotten trendier, we've brought in some Filipino and other Asian influences. For example, we do a killer Korean short rib taco now."

However, Paulmeier stresses that just because Asian flavors have become more trendy and acceptable doesn't mean she will redesign her menu .

"You do have to draw line at some point, or pretty soon you're not serving what you specialize in," she says. "We've introduced some new and different sauces and marmalades and things like that, but we're not changing the whole center of the menu."

Paulmeier says people who visit Hilton Head and Savannah are looking for a "more relaxed atmosphere. They're not looking for a big city feel where everything's $50 a plate. They're looking for a comfortable feeling but still high quality food. We tend to have a lot of smaller places which don't seat 500 people. Our restaurants around here have more of a boutique feel."

This September marks One Hot Mama's tenth anniversary. Paulmeier is honest about the restaurant's success not just being due to its great food and fun atmosphere.

"We still feature a lot of items that are the same from day one, but the amount of business has definitely changed because of the Food Network," she says. "Locals know me because I've worked here for 19 years -- tourists say, ‘I just saw you on the Food Network and wanted to stop by.'"

Paulmeier says after the Food Network appearance first aired last year right after Memorial Day, she bulked up her staff at One Hot Mama's in preparation.

"We already had a whole staff onboard, but after the show aired on June 4, 2011, we had to hire 18 more people to handle the business," she says. "Can you believe that? And thankfully so."

Savannah Asian Festival